Moon was starting to think that agreeing to his mother’s visit had been a bad decision.
“Jade,” he said, for what felt like the thousandth time, “it’s going to be okay.” He settled Fern more comfortably in his arms, and kissed the top of her fuzzy head, enjoying the clean-baby smell. “Go back downstairs, I’ve got this.”
Living above the coffeeshop was convenient for breaks and made Moon’s commute to work shorter than it had ever been before, but it also meant Jade had been popping upstairs every chance she got. That had been fine when it was only to nurse the babies, but since Malachite’s visit, she’d been sneaking away often enough to interfere with her work and get on Pearl’s nerves.
“Pearl’s going to be pissed,” Moon said. It was the middle of the lunch rush, and they needed all the help they could get, even with Pearl’s new boyfriend bussing tables and Chime working his coffee magic. Moon felt guilty about not working, but Jade and Pearl had both agreed, shockingly, that his job was to look after the twins.
Jade sighed, and stood.
“You’re right,” she said, “but Chime’s lunch break is soon, and he wants to know what you want to eat?”
Moon looked up from Fern’s little waving fists.
“Um,” he said. He’d been here with Jade’s family for just over two years now, and it still surprised him when they treated him like he belonged. “I don’t—“
Sapphire started crying in her crib, and Moon stood to go over. “Something I can eat with one hand,” he said, “a sandwich, I guess.”
Jade kissed his cheek, and he shooed her away.
“I’ve got this,” he said, “go back to work.”
Moon settled Fern in the crib and picked up Sapphire. Visitors couldn’t tell the twins apart yet, but Moon had never had much difficulty, even though they were identical — they sounded different, and moved with distinct, jerky little gestures.
“Hush now,” he said, and walked into the kitchen to pull a bottle from the fridge. “You’ll get your lunch too, shhhh.”
Moon jogged Sapphire while heating the milk, then took her back into the nursery and settled into a rocking chair to feed her, burped her, and let her start to doze against his shoulder. He was just thinking about taking a nap, too, when Chime came in.
“I brought an apple-brie-ham sandwich,” Chime said, “and —“ he handed Moon a cup. “I figured you could use some caffeine.” Moon took a breath, and smelled chai latte, his favorite drink.
“Let’s sit in the kitchen,” Moon suggested, “the girls are sleeping, and there’s a monitor if they wake up.”
Chime had brought up soup for himself, and they ate in silence for a moment, Moon savoring the taste of the sandwich, the freshness of the ingredients. He’d never been able to explain to Jade or Chime why he ate so slowly, but he thought Stone understood. Moon didn’t have to make his food last anymore, and he wasn’t eating out of dumpsters or picking at half-eaten diner meals, but old habits were hard to break.
“This is really good,” Moon said, when the silence started to feel strangely uncomfortable. Usually Chime chattered away, talking about his day, about the goth girl’s new laptop stickers or the odd coffee orders he’d gotten, but today he was silent.
“You always say that,” Chime huffed. He sounded on-edge, and didn’t look up from his potato-leek soup. It had taken Bone, who was the cook and Jade’s uncle, a while to get on board with a vegetarian soup option, but his soups were always delicious.
“Well,” Moon said, feeling oddly defensive, “it always is. You’re good at making these.”
“What is it?” Moon asked. “Just spit it out.” Maybe Jade would have been more diplomatic about it, but Moon was tired, and he’d never been very good at beating around the bush.
“I just —“ Chime looked up and bit his lip. “Your mother is coming tomorrow, right?”
“I was thinking,” Chime said, “I mean — I could go stay with my folks. Just while she’s here.” He paused. “If you want.”
“Why?” Moon asked, “there’s more than enough space. I mean, she’ll be in the guest room, and Celadon and Shade might have to go on air mattresses with her, if they both get time off work. We might have to do dinner in shifts, but we’ve done that before.”
“You don’t think she’ll mind —“ he made a vague sweeping gesture.
“What?” Moon asked, looking around the kitchen. “I don’t think she’ll care about dinner arrangements,”
“No,” Chime snapped, “I mean, us.” He hunched his shoulders. “I mean, I don’t want to cause problems.”
“Oh,” Moon said. He hadn’t thought much about whether Malachite would mind his relationship with Jade and Chime: it just was, and everyone in her family had accepted it with some mild teasing and the occasional joke about how their king-size mattress took up most of their bedroom.
“You’re an idiot,” Chime said, but he seemed pleased.
“You’re part of my family,” Moon said, trying to put words to it. “If she doesn’t like that,” he shrugged. “I didn’t know her for thirty years, it’s not like I’m missing much if she decides to be a bitch about it.”
“But she’s your mother!” Chime protested.
“Yeah, well,” Moon said. “I didn’t know that until Jade found her, so.”
Moon really didn’t want to talk about this: he wasn’t sure himself how he felt about Malachite’s visit. He’d only really met her once, though he’d Skyped with Celadon and Shade a couple of times. They seemed nice enough, and had dragged Malachite into the frame a few times, but she’d seemed uncomfortable with video chats, more accustomed to talking over the phone.
Honestly, Moon kind of wanted Chime around when Malachite visited, as a reminder that he’d finally found a place that didn’t hate him, or just barely tolerate him: Chime was more physically affectionate than Jade, more likely to hug Moon spontaneously or plop down beside him on the couch and put his head in Moon’s lap without asking.
“Anyway,” Moon said, “I want you to be here.”
Chime’s smile, tentative as it was, made Moon lean across the table to kiss him. Chime tasted of soup, and Moon was just starting to wonder how much longer Chime had on his lunch break when Fern started fussing through the baby monitor.
“Damn,” Moon said, and stood. “Do you mind —“ he gestured at the table, and Chime nodded.
“I’ll clean up,” he said, “and then I should get back to work. It’s crazy down there today.”
Moon was already on his way to the nursery, Fern’s cries tugging at his heart.
Chime closed at the coffeeshop that evening, and when he stumbled up the stairs, Jade was nursing the twins. Moon was already asleep, and so Chime settled into a chair across from Jade.
“You okay?” He asked, nodding at Fern and Sapphire. “I can feed one of them.” Jade had one baby under each arm, and they were nursing happily, but sometimes her arms got tired.
“I’m fine,” she said. “Moon said you offered to leave?”
“I just —“ he shook his head. “I don’t want his mother to —“ he wasn’t even sure how to put his worries into words. His own parents had grudgingly accepted his relationship with Moon and Jade, but it had taken them months to settle into the idea, and they’d already known Jade — he and Jade had practically grown up together. “To not like us,” he concluded lamely.
Jade’s mouth tightened.
“Me either,” she said, “but I’m not —“ she yelped, and repositioned Sapphire, “I’m not ashamed of you — of either of you. And if Moon said you should stay, you should stay.” She looked him in the eye. “I’d be pissed if he’d told you to leave,” she admitted. “He just mostly seemed confused.”
“That’s Moon,” he said, and they shared a smile. Sometimes Moon’s relative cluelessness could be infuriating, and the gaps in his understanding of relationships, of family, even of the basic reciprocity of most relationships, were still baffling. Stone said it happened to a lot of kids who bounced in and out of the foster system as much as Moon had, which made Chime want to stab someone — or a lot of someones — when it didn’t make him want to cry. Of course, Stone also said Moon was one of the most messed up former foster-kids he’d ever seen, which was saying something, given how many of them Stone had helped out over the years.
“Well,” Chime said, “I’m beat — do you need a hand?”
Jade shook her head.
“I’m on second shift tomorrow,” she said, “I’ll stay up a bit longer, put the twins to sleep.” Chime nodded, and heaved himself to his feet. Moon was curled up on his side on one side of their bed, but he stirred when Chime opened the door.
“Wha?” Moon asked, “Issit—“ and he started to sit up.
“It’s just me,” Chime said, “don’t get up, everyone’s fine.”
Moon’s tendency to assume that being woken up meant something was disastrously wrong had taken some getting used to, until Moon had let slip that one of the squats he’d spent time in as a teenager had been raided by the cops at random, usually in the middle of the night. Moon said it had only taken one night in jail for him to learn that noises while he was sleeping meant “Get up and get out.”
Chime stripped and climbed into bed next to Moon, who had settled back into a half-doze.
“C’mere,” Chime said, stretching out an arm, and Moon curled against his side. Moon was a good four inches taller than Chime, but he snuggled into Chime’s chest, sprawling across him as if Chime were the bigger of the two of them.
Chime ran a hand across Moon’s back, and listened to him breathe, trying to settle down enough to sleep. He was exhausted, but whenever he closed his eyes, disastrous visions of Malachite’s visit danced across his eyelids. He was still awake when Jade slipped in, carrying the baby monitor from the kitchen.
“They’re asleep?” Chime whispered, and Jade jumped.
“Sapphire’s asleep,” she said, “Fern is drowsing. She’ll be asleep soon.” She dropped her clothes on the floor and climbed into bed on Chime’s other side. “Stop borrowing trouble,” Jade whispered.
“I just —“ Chime started, and Jade kissed him quiet.
“Stoppit,” she said, and ruffled his hair. She was asleep long before Chime, but the sound of her and Moon’s slow, even breathing lulled him to sleep eventually.
Moon woke at sunrise, as he often did. Jade and Chime stirred when Moon climbed over them, but didn’t wake all the way. It still amazed Moon that they slept so soundly. Moon fixed himself tea and cereal and kept an ear on the baby monitor, enjoying the rare feeling of having time to himself. Downstairs he could hear the sounds of the coffeeshop beginning to open up — they opened earlier than any of the other neighborhood shops, catering to hipsters with long commutes into their jobs in the city. Even when Moon woke this early, it was a sure thing that Flower and Merit were in the shop, baking and cooking and making sure everything was ready for the morning rush.
Moon had rinsed the beans and put them into a dutch oven with sausage and chicken thighs, and was finishing his second cup of tea when Chime stumbled out of the bedroom in boxers, hair sticking up in all directions.
“Ugh,” Chime complained, “why are you always awake?”
Moon didn’t reply, just handed Chime a cup of tea.
“You’ll wake them,” Moon said, and Chime took a long drink of tea with a grimace of apology. When he’d drained the mug, Chime set it down in the sink, pecked Moon on the cheek, and wandered toward the bathroom. He’d emerge soon enough showered and awake, Moon knew, and take over the baby monitor while Moon waited for Malachite in the shop downstairs.
“You’re wearing that?” Chime asked, when he came back in toweling his hair dry.
“What?” Moon asked. He was wearing the same thing he usually wore to look after the babies: jeans and one of Chime’s old t-shirts. This one had a logo for a cartoon about space gems, which Moon hadn’t watched yet. The shirts were loose on Chime, fitted on Moon, but Jade had told him she liked it.
“It’s a little —“ Chime shook his head. “I don’t know, I figured you’d get dressed up?”
Moon shrugged. Chime didn’t seem to have noticed that Moon still didn’t have formal clothes, not the way Chime and Jade did.
“It’s clean,” he said, “no holes, no paint, no baby spit, but I’m going to get puked on. What’s the point?” Chime raised an eyebrow.
“You are hopeless,” Chime said, and ruffled Moon’s hair to show he didn’t mean it. “Seriously, your fashion sense is completely weird.”
“Says the man in a —“ Moon looked at Chime’s shirt. “Alexander Hamilton shirt?”
“Hey,” Chime said, “Hamilton is awesome.” Moon wasn’t going to get into that argument again.
“You’ve got the babies?” Moon asked, “I should get downstairs.”
Chime looked at the clock, and gave Moon a skeptical look, but he just reeled Moon in for a hug. “Yeah,” he said, “you go fret downstairs, I’ve got the girls.”
Moon mock-glared, but buried his face in Chime’s hair for a longer-than-usual moment, taking comfort in the familiar smell of Chime’s shampoo before heading down to Tea Place.
“Hey,” Merit called, as Moon walked in. “The usual?”
Moon nodded. This was another thing he’d had to get accustomed to after being here for so long: the baristas here remembered what drinks and pastries all the regulars liked, and that included Moon. Moon’s life before Stone found him had been so scattered, moving from home to home, from house to house, and then from squat to shitty apartment to street corner, that it was still a surprise when Merit remembered.
“Yeah,” he said, “maybe one shot less of espresso?”
“Right,” Merit nodded, and checked something on the cup, which he handed to Ember, who’d drawn the short stick on morning shifts this week. “Your mom’s coming today, right?”
“Yeah.” Moon looked over the counter at the array of muffins, scones, and simple quickbreads. Tea Place didn’t do fancy baking, nothing with yeast or a long lead time, but their customers seemed to love it anyway. He sighed.
“You nervous?” Merit asked. “I mean, you’ve seen her, what, twice?” Moon shrugged. Merit was way too observant for Moon’s comfort, just like Chime.
“I guess?” Moon admitted. “It’s a little weird.” He paused. “Chime’s kind of freaking out,” he offered, hoping that the mention of Merit’s cousin would distract him.
“Hah,” Merit said, “when is he not?” But he allowed the conversation to be steered away from Malachite and onto the morning’s bakery disasters — one of the industrial mixers had thrown a screw and dropped muffin batter all over the floor. Moon grabbed his drink and a slice of chocolate banana bread and retreated to a window table. The goth girl who usually camped there might mind, but Moon thought Malachite was likely to arrive before noon. Moon drank his chai latte and picked at the banana bread. It was good: no hint of the kitchen disasters in its taste or texture.
Some time later Jade pushed open the door.
“Morning,” she said, kissing his cheek, and settling into the seat across from him.
“Morning,” Moon said, and then did a double-take, looking at the time on his phone. “You’re closing tonight? What are you doing up so early?”
“Waiting with you,” Jade said. “Chime said you seemed nervous.” Moon frowned.
“Oh, hush,” Jade said, “the girls let us sleep through the night, I’ll be fine. Besides, I want to meet your mother, I wasn’t going to be able to just sit upstairs.”
She was dressed in the cafe’s all-black uniform, skinny jeans and a fitted t-shirt, but she had a bright plaid shirt open over it and she’d pulled her thick hair back into a elaborate bun instead of her usual ponytail. She was wearing two silver studs in each ear, which she hadn’t done since the babies had started making grabs for shiny things.
“Mmm,” Moon said. He still hadn’t figured out how to comment on people’s clothes without them laughing at him: it had been a big enough surprise when Stone had taken him shopping and insisted on buying him more than one pair of jeans.
“You moron,” Stone had said, and cuffed him on the shoulder, “I don’t have laundry in-apartment, and I’m not going to the laundromat for you.” At that point, Moon hadn’t been to a laundromat in years, except to keep warm, but he figured Stone could probably tell without Moon having to mention that.
“Earth to Moon,” Jade said, waving a hand in front of his face, “seriously, you okay?” Moon shook his head.
“You look nice,” he said. Compliments were usually safe. Jade touched her hair, then straightened her rolled-up-cuffs.
“You think so?” she asked.
“Yes,” Moon said, and leaned over to take her hands. “I always think so.” Jade laughed, and Ember brought Jade a coffee and a cranberry muffin without being asked.
“Your mom’s coming today?” he asked, and Moon groaned inwardly.
“Yes,” Jade said, “and we’re not going to treat her like a zoo animal, okay?”
Ember just laughed, and wiped a non-existent spot off the table with his apron before retreating back behind the counter. He’d gape the same as Merit when Malachite arrived, but Moon thought Flower would keep them mostly in check.
Celadon texted when they got off the subway, which gave Jade time to down the rest of her coffee, fiddle with her earrings, and Moon time to bus the table and join Jade outside just as Malachite, Celadon, and Shade all turned the corner. Shade waved enthusiastically with his free hand: he was dragging an enormous suitcase behind him, while Malachite only had a duffel slung over one shoulder, and Celadon’s bag was a European flight carry-on-sized roller.
“Moon!” Shade said, as soon as they got close enough not to yell. “Hi!” He was practically bouncing with excitement. “The subway was so much faster than I thought!”
Moon couldn’t help smiling at Shade’s obvious enthusiasm: he’d grown up in Greenwich, and hadn’t been allowed to come into the city very much.
“Hi,” he said, “um, this is Jade —“ he gestured, and Jade nodded greeting, suddenly tense beside him.
“Hello,” Celadon said, and shook Jade’s hand. Then she looked between the two of them. “Where are the twins?”
“Chime is upstairs with the girls,” Moon explained, “it’s his day off.”
“Your — nanny?” Malachite asked, arching an eyebrow. Moon’s explanation clearly didn’t make sense: why would a nanny be looking after the girls on their day off?
“Boyfriend,” Moon said, and took Jade’s hand. “Our boyfriend,” he corrected.
“Ah,” Malachite blinked, and Shade coughed.
“Huh,” Celadon said softly.
There was silence for long a moment, and Moon tried not to grab Jade’s hand too hard as Malachite just watched the two of them, her expression entirely unreadable.
“Well. Let’s get your bags upstairs,” Jade said, “Pearl asked me to make sure you were settled in. She can’t come up until later, I’m afraid, but we’ve got plenty of space.”
Celadon let Moon take one of the suitcases, and Jade led the way up the narrow stairs into their apartment, Malachite only a step behind her. When they opened the door, Moon was glad they had been cleaning. The apartment was better than any place he’d lived for years — almost ever — but it wasn’t nearly as nice as Malachite’s suburban home, which was enormous and well-appointed thanks to her high-powered job at a corporate law firm. The furniture was mostly hand-me-downs from Pearl or IKEA, and the only really new things were for the babies. Chime was sitting in the living room with Fern in his lap, and looked up when they came in.
“She’s getting a little hungry,” he said, and Fern nuzzled into his chest, as if in illustration of his words. “Sapphire’s napping.”
Malachite’s gaze, which had been scanning the room with a studiously blank expression, snapped to Chime and the infant in his arms.
“Chime, I presume,” she said, and stepped forward. Celadon put a hand on Moon’s arm.
“Can you show us where to put the suitcases?” Shade asked. His arm was trembling faintly from the strain of carrying the case up two flights of stairs. Moon nodded, and led them to the third bedroom, which was just barely large enough to hold the trundle bed and an air mattress. Moon hadn’t felt bad about it before they’d arrived, but now that they were here, it felt sadly inadequate. When he had visited Malachite, he and Jade had had separate rooms, and here he was shoving all three of them in the same tiny space.
“Thank you,” Shade said, putting his suitcase down with a sigh. “I should have packed less!”
“I told you that,” Celadon said, putting down her suitcase as well. Her tone was amused, but not unkind. Moon held what he assumed was Malachite’s suitcase, which was smaller than the other two. When he put it down, the room seemed even smaller. Down the hall, Moon heard Sapphire waking up, fussing the way she did when she could tell she was alone.
“I’ve got her,” Moon called down the hall to the living room, and turned to Celadon and Shade. “I’ve got to—“
Celadon grinned, and made a shooing gesture, and Moon hurried to the nursery, where Sapphire was just starting to work herself up into full screaming. She quieted when Moon picked her up, and started cooing instead, snuggling into his hold and turning her face to his chest. When Moon walked into the hallway, Celadon was just emerging from the guest room.
“This is —“ she asked, looking down at the baby in Moon’s arms.
“Sapphire,” he said, jogging her a little so she would look up. Sapphire peered up and gurgled, and Celadon’s smile turned into an outright grin. “She’s a little hungry, so I was going to—“
“We should get out there,” Celadon said, “Malachite really wants to see you.”
“Malachite really wants to see the babies,” Moon said, but he felt a tiny smile tug at his lips anyway.
“That too,” Celadon said, and tugged him back into the living room, where Malachite was sitting in the center of the sofa with Fern in her arms while Chime hovered in the door to the kitchen, clearly unsure what he should be doing now that someone else had the babies under control. Moon deposited Sapphire in Jade’s arms, and sat next to Malachite.
In his mother’s arms, Fern burbled and grabbed at Malachite’s elaborate braids. Moon had never seen Malachite allow someone to touch her without permission, but here she was, shaking her head so her hair danced for Fern’s entertainment. He resisted the urge to pinch himself.
Celadon sat on Malachite’s other side and smiled at Moon.
“How do you tell them apart?” she asked.
“Sapphire’s the fussy one,” he said, “besides, they look different.”
“They really don’t,” Jade admitted, “but they sound a little different.” She jogged Sapphire, who was nuzzling at her chest, and made a wry face. “I’m embarrassed to say that Moon was the best at telling them apart before we had their ears pierced.”
“There was a pair of twins at one of the homes,” he said. “You either learned to tell them apart, or they walked all over you.”
The Allen boys had been older and bigger than Moon, red-headed with identical patterns of freckles and jug-handle ears. They’d called Moon ‘Chink’ and ’nigger’ when their parents couldn’t hear them. After jumping him in a schoolyard fight they’d gotten him suspended by lying about him starting it; when that hadn’t been enough to make their parents give up on fostering Moon, they’d accused him of molesting their little sister. The Allen family had sent Moon straight back to the fosterage, and no one else had been willing to take in a thirteen-year-old boy with something like that on his record, even if they had no other kids of their own to worry about.
Malachite’s gaze was hard when she glanced at him, and Moon regretted bringing it up.
“Anyway,” he said, “the girls are easy to tell apart now. Sapphire had the blue studs, and Fern the green.”
Conversation turned to the babies, and Moon escaped into the kitchen to check on the simmering beans and start preparing for lunch. Jade slipped in a moment or two later.
“I’m going to have to head down soon,” she said. “Will you be okay?” Her voice was low, and Moon turned to give her a hug.
“I’m fine,” he said. “This is just a little weird, that’s all.”
Jade laughed, and wrapped her arms around his waist.
“Tell me about it,” she said. “I never expected — well, any of this.”
“No, it’s not bad,” she said, pulling back to look at him. “It’s just — your mother is a little scary.” Moon snorted.
“Yeah,” he said, and Jade kissed him before pulling away.
“I’ll send up some bread,” she said, “I bet Ember is dying to spy for Pearl, and I know we’re running short for this many.”
Moon nodded, and went back to putting a tray of sandwich fixings together as Jade left.
Chime came in a moment or two later.
“You okay?” Chime asked.
“Why does everyone keep asking me that?” Moon asked, trying to figure out whether he had space to add a green tomato relish or whether that would be overkill.
“Because you looked like you were fleeing?” Chime guessed. “Look, the tray is fabulous, let’s go make sure Sapphire doesn’t pee on someone.”
“She’s done that once," Moon insisted.
“And yet,” Chime said, “because it was Pearl, you’re never going to hear the end of it.”
Moon laughed, and let Chime take the tray and lead him back into the living room, where Shade was now rocking Fern, and Malachite was letting Sapphire chew on one of her braids. The gold filigree cap bead was on the table out of baby-gum-reach, and Moon sighed.
“Jade’s sending up some bread,” Moon explained as Chime set down the tray and Moon set down plates and utensils. “I figured we could self-assemble sandwiches?” It came out as more of a question than he’d hoped, but Celadon smiled.
“This looks great,” she said. “Where did you get the white bean salad?”
“Made it,” he said. “It’s pretty simple, if you soak the beans overnight.”
“What he means,” Chime said, “is that he made basically everything on the tray, in between looking after the twins and feeding me and Jade. Moon’s kind of obsessed with cooking.”
Moon glared at him, but Malachite laughed.
“Your father loved cooking,” she said, and tickled Sapphire until the baby stopped gumming at her hair. “Suppose it runs in the family.”
Ember knocked, and Chime got up to let him in, took the bread, and shoo him out.
“Oooh, Jade sent up pastries too,” Chime said, and set the bread on the table.
“She’s content to be a coffeeshop barista?” Malachite asked. Her tone was mild, but Moon could guess there was more to the question.
“She’s part owner,” Moon said, “she bought out her grandfather last year.” He shrugged, and because Malachite didn’t look satisfied, continued to explain. “She says she’d rather learn how to manage property by starting small. Eventually she’ll branch out into her mother’s other properties.”
“Besides,” Chime said, “there’s nothing wrong with doing something for the joy of it.”
Celadon looked up from Fern, who was drowsing in her lap.
“I thought Moon said you were a chemist?” she asked.
“Biochemist,” Chime said, looking at his teacup and making a wry face. “PhD straight to an industry job, and I hated it.” His mouth twisted. “Working as a barista is way better hours, and I don’t want to stab as many people in the face.”
“Unless they want half-caff soy mocha-lattes with a hint of organic vegan whipped cream?” Moon asked, having heard Chime rant about that.
“That’s just unnecessarily difficult,” Chime said, “and disgusting. Who wants to make a drink that tastes bad?” He looked at Celadon, who was watching him with a curious look on her face. “I was working on bioluminescence,” he said, “and I wanted to apply it to sustainable energy and lighting. The company I worked for just wanted to make money hand over fist, so I got out.”
“What he’s not saying,” Moon said, “is that he’s got several patents that mean he can pay rent even if he never works again.”
Malachite didn’t move, but Shade looked surprised.
“You’re making too big a deal out of it,” Chime protested. “Besides, I like my job here.”
Sapphire started fussing, and Chime looked over at her in Malachite's arms. Apparently the gumming at Malachite's braids had been motivated by more than the desire to destroy Moon's mother's hair.
“She’s hungry?” Malachite asked, and Moon nodded. “You made just the same noise,” Malachite said. “Celadon was much better behaved.”
“I’ll just get a bottle,” Moon said, and made his escape again.
Dinner would have been awkward if they had all been present, but Jade was working the closing shift, so they were only five and two babies around a table that usually seated four. Chime insisted on taking the folding chair at an angle to the table while Moon and their guests sat in the slightly-more-solid IKEA chairs that matched the table. Moon had
Malachite’s mere presence made Chime wish he’d taken time off to clean even more assiduously than he had before the visit. She hadn’t seemed actively judgmental, but the understated lines of her, Celadon, and Shade’s clothing all but screamed money. Chime had spent enough time at industry parties to know that her earrings were the real deal, and that Celadon’s necklace and Shade’s watch were antiques that would pay their rent for months. Malachite didn’t seem to care at all that Fern was drooling a stain onto her silk shirt, or that Sapphire had chewed on her braids every chance she got, ruining several of them.
Celadon looked just like Moon, but Shade was paler and more delicate looking. He’d inherited Malachite’s jawline and eyes, but you could tell they were half-siblings.
“So,” Chime said, once they were all done eating, “Jade should be up later, but for now…” he broke off.
“I’ll help clean up,” Celadon offered. “Moon, what time do the twins get put to sleep?”
Moon looked up from Sapphire, who was burbling on his shoulder and refusing to be burped.
“Soon,” he said, “I’ll have to take Sapphire into the nursery, or she won’t settle.” He stood, and Shade followed him carrying Fern, who had wrapped a tiny fist in his shirt before falling asleep partway through the meal.
“Here,” Malachite said, and started matter-of-factly stacking plates. “It’ll go faster with three.”
The kitchen was small, but large enough to make a dishwashing line work: Celadon washed, Malachite dried, and Chime put things away, since there wasn’t enough counter space for a dish drainer. They worked in silence, and Chime tried not to feel like a terrible host for allowing them to clean.
“So whose are they?” Celadon asked after a time, cocking a head toward the hallway. Chime should have known this question was coming.
“I’m sterile,” he said, answering the question Celadon obviously meant to ask: who’s the father?
Celadon stopped washing, shock obvious on her face. Malachite froze with a half-dry plate in her hands.
“I’m sorry,” Celadon said, “I mean, I —“
“It’s not a big deal,” he said. “I’m a carrier for Tay-Sachs, and it seemed better not to risk it. I got a vasectomy when I was eighteen.”
“But you’re not Jewish.” Malachite said. “I thought that was—”
“French Canadian,” Chime said. “And Creole. Much less common, but both of my parents are carriers.” He hoped he wouldn’t have to mention how they knew it was both parents: Heart’s memory was still bitter, even all these years later.
“I’m sorry to hear that,” Malachite said. “It’s a devastating disease. Some of my clients lost a child a few years ago.” She handed Chime the plate, and he took it.
“I know,” he said, feeling awkward and glad Moon wasn’t in the room. “Like I said, it seemed better to take myself out of the equation where kids are concerned.”
“Is that why you went into biochemistry?” she asked. Chime blinked: very few people had made that connection.
“Yes,” he said, “but I got sidetracked when I was trying to identify carrier genes by splicing on jellyfish luminescent genes.”
Celadon turned off the water and handed Malachite the last of the dishes.
“You really like being a barista?” she asked.
“It’s a job that stays at work,” he said, “and the flexible schedule means I can help Moon with the babies.” He thought about Malachite’s casually drooled-upon shirt and added, “I’m putting the patent money into a college savings account right now.” He shrugged, and took the last pan from Malachite to hang it from the pot rack.
“He’s been doing that for years,” Moon added from the doorway, “he and Jade had this all planned out.” Chime blushed.
“Anyway,” Moon said, “Jade says she’s on her break soon and do we want coffee?”
“I’ll go help her carry it up,” he said, but Moon took his hand.
“Ember’s carrying it for her,” he said. “Poor guy’s desperate to help.”
At Malachite and Celadon’s quizzical look, Chime explained.
“Pearl’s boyfriend,” he said. “He’s curious about everything.” His phone buzzed, and he pulled it out. “Coffee orders?” he asked, and sent a series of quick messages to Jade.
When Jade arrived and shucked her shoes by the doorway, Chime had an arm wrapped around Moon’s shoulders, and Celadon and Malachite were seated across from them making polite conversation about nothing in particular. Jade set down the coffee and plopped down on the couch, piling her legs into Moon and Chime’s laps with a sigh. Moon started rubbing her feet almost instinctively, and Jade let out a long breath.
“I’m sorry,” she said, looking across at Malachite and Celadon, “it’s been a bit short-staffed today because one of our baristas called in sick. I can’t stay long.”
Chime had been watching Malachite and Celadon out of the corner of his eye, and had noticed that Malachite’s posture had softened slightly as Moon started to rub his thumbs up the arch of Jade’s feet.
“It’s not a problem,” Celadon said. She smiled. “Those shoes look gorgeous.”
“They look gorgeous,” Jade agreed, “they feel like murder. I always forget.”
She’d worn them to impress Malachite, Chime was sure, and to be just a little bit taller in front of Moon’s statuesque and impressive mother.
“The heel is probably stacked wrong,” Malachite said, “or the last doesn’t suit your feet.” She shrugged. “Comfortable heels are something of a hobby of mine.”
The three women launched into a discussion of shoe brands that Chime had, for the most part, never heard of. Chime met Moon’s eyes and smiled. Maybe this hadn’t been a completely terrible idea after all.